Despite Djokovic’s assertion that he is “completely for women power”, his recent comments on equal pay in tennis seem to suggest otherwise. He has come under fire for stating that male tennis players should earn more money than their female counterparts because more people watch them play. According to the BBC, there were a total of 973 million viewers for the 2015 men’s ATP tour compared to 395 million for all the women’s WTA events and finals.
However, not only is the general premise of Djokovic’s argument sexist, but it is also looking at the issue through a very narrow lens. First, in terms of coverage, men’s sport tends to be prioritised over women’s, meaning pre-existing assumptions play a role in the imbalance of viewers, which should not prevent greater equality.
Moreover, the reception and audience for tennis is linked to the characters playing and the rivalry or competition between the players. Last year, for example, at the US Open, the women’s final sold out long before the men’s. Following Djokovic’s comments, Murray has come forward and argued how the crowds and viewers “change on a day-to-day basis depending on the matches you get”, highlighting the flaws and narrowness of Djokovic’s argument.
Djokovic also went on to discuss biological differences between sexes: describing women and their “hormones and different stuff”. He also attempted to describe how female “bodies are much different to men’s bodies [sic]” suggesting they were at a distinct disadvantage. This was unashamedly misogynistic, and for the many talented top female tennis players, incredibly patronising. The implication that women are inherently less talented, and inherently less able to play tennis or sport, serves to negate the hard work that all tennis players put in.
Equal pay is still an issue regardless of the sector and, despite laws in place, inequality still exists in tennis too. The four Grand Slams now all give equal prize money to their players, although for the French Open and Wimbledon this is still a relatively new idea only introduced in 2006/7 (in comparison to the US Open which recognised equal pay in 1973).
However, male tennis players are still paid more on average. For instance, whilst both Djokovic and Williams won three out of four grand slams last year and both won around 93 per cent of all their matches, Williams earned £7.3 million, whilst Djokovic earned £14.5 million. Whilst one could blame this extortionate gap on Williams’ brief injury, it cannot account for a 50 per cent difference. The existing inequality within the sports industry highlights the privileged position from which Djokovic is speaking.
Since the debate on equal pay was reopened with Raymond Moore’s incredibly sexist statement, that has since led to his being forced to resign, that female players “should get on their knees” to thank men for boosting their own profile, both Serena Williams and Andy Murray have stepped in. As Williams pointed out, Moore’s idea invalidates the hard work of the female players. She also asked Djokovic how he would explain to children that men are owed more money.
Murray backed Williams, showing his support for complete equal pay between genders. The criticism that Djokovic has been receiving both from the press in general and other tennis players led him to release a statement on Facebook to ‘clarify’ what he meant where he tried to suggest that he did not mean to create a “fight between genders and differences in pay.”
Image Credit: Alberto Robbiani